Bearded dragon parents—the human kind—don’t always understand their reptilian kids. So if they want to play with their wards, it can be vexing because, unlike more vocal pets like cats and dogs, dragons cannot convey their needs in a tangible way. So what is a dragon keeper to do?
To play with a bearded dragon, you should present lots of opportunities for it to move about, so it gets to exercise without being pressured. Give it the kinds of toys that encourage physical activity. Create interesting environments for exploration.
That’s just a general picture. For specifics, we reached out to vets, bearded dragon experts, breeders, and owners for ideas on entertaining our beloved pets. Here are some of their suggestions:
You can buy variations of this transparent plastic exercise ball from Amazon ($8-15). It’s hollow inside and equipped with a lid, so you can fill it with grasshoppers, crickets, or any other insect that jumps. These tasty treats provide an impetus for your dragon to roll the ball and chase after it. If you don’t want to spend on a toy, a transparent box is a neat alternative. Set a time limit for ball play to prevent your pet from getting too tired.
Swing or Hammock
Even the laziest lizard appreciates sleeping in a hammock. Just ask Homer Simpson. The swing, the hammock’s more active cousin, has the added advantage of movement. This provides another opportunity for exercise since various muscles will be set in motion and get energized whenever your dragon climbs on the swing and it moves. This beats climbing on a rock.
Why not give your dragon both? Place them on opposite sides of the playpen. Just ensure the swing or hammock you buy is of good quality and made of safe material to prevent injury.
You can always buy playpens and toys from pet stores, but creating a toy or unique housing is priceless, as each bearded dragon is different in temperament and personality. Tailoring the toy or shelter according to your dragon’s predilections will be much appreciated.
Lizard Guru recommends this custom lizard hut ($25) that can be engraved with your dragon’s name. This miniature polymer clay hut, handmade in order, comes in various colors. It’s perfect for small or juvenile lizards. No paint or glaze ensures it doesn’t expel anything toxic under heating lights. While it’s currently out of stock, an alternative is Zoo Med’s Habba Hut Hideaway for Reptiles ($25). Accessorize it to make it your dragon’s own.
Whatever material you use for playthings or playhouses, make sure it’s safe for pets. Consult your vet or pet store manager.
According to Mei, hand-feeding is a great way to associate your hand with something positive or enjoyable. If a new beardie only sees your hand when you pick it up, it will seem like a predator is trying to grab them.
Hand-feeding your dragon is engaging, contributes to your bonding, and helps in taming new pets. But using tweezers is much safer, as it protects you from getting bitten. It also gives you opportunities for rough play at a safe distance.
Use long tweezers to play chase with your dragon. Pinch squirming insects for catching. Encourage your pet to jump, climb, and run for its food. This is a fantastic way to coerce your dragon to exercise, as there’s always a reward in the end. Again, set a time limit for horseplay.
Introduce your dragon to its greatest fan: itself.
Place a mirror by its playpen so it can see itself and for you to study its behavior. It will either move its head up and down or wave at its reflection. The former move is a territorial one. When your pet interprets its reflection to be another dragon, the head movement is meant to frighten this potential threat away from its kingdom. The latter move is to show submissiveness if it thinks the other dragon is bigger or more powerful.
Presenting one dragon to another will achieve the same result. Keep them in separate tanks a safe distance from each other to prevent them from fighting.
Either activity should not take place the entire day. Just 15 minutes daily is enough to provide your dragon stimulation without stressing it out.
Allow your bearded dragon to climb or rest on your body. Apart from catering to its penchant for exploration, this also promotes bonding time. This is excellent for getting babies to get used to you and for taming wild ones.
Secure an adjustable leash for protection while taking your dragon out for walks. Or fashion one yourself. Whether store-bought or homemade, test the leash indoors first to ensure it’s safe and that it doesn’t dig into your dragon’s skin.
A leash is also indispensable in allowing your dragon to run around your garden or yard or even at the park. For the latter, bring along a foldable safety fence to protect your pet from other animals.
Days before your outdoor adventure, introduce the leash to your pet by placing it in its tank. When it gets used to the leash, your pet will be more willing to wear it.
If you choose to go outdoors for your dragon’s foray into an environment outside your home, first check if the grass and plants in your chosen area have been treated with pesticide or other toxic chemicals.
Let raindrops fall on your beardie. If the only environment it has known is the desert, then the rain will take a bit of acclimating to. Introduce it bit by bit. Give it a choice to run for cover if afraid or doesn’t appreciate wetness. Provide a shelter without enclosure, so when it gets brave enough to get out there again, it won’t be constrained.
Beardies are excellent swimmers. Swimming provides an outstanding workout for all body parts and is beneficial for a regular bowel movement.
If you don’t own a pool or have a natural body of water in your backyard, just fill your bathtub with tap water and place a rock (or other stable, solid object) for your dragon to climb on or rest in between laps. Dragon owner George Ward suggests encouraging your dragon to swim toward the rock to exercise its legs. Add a rubber ducky for company.
If you don’t have a tub, use a plastic basin, or a clothes hamper sans holes. Otherwise, use a toy squirt gun or a watering spray for plants to give your pet a quick shower. But first, make sure it likes showers or are already used to them.
Always check the water temperature beforehand. Supervise your pet even if it’s a better swimmer than you.
Most bearded dragons get fat because of overfeeding and staying in a vivarium for long stretches of time. So devise activities custom-made for them.
Provide a separate venue—in the tank or outside of it—for your pet to play hide-and-seek. Bearded dragons, being solitary creatures, value their privacy. So they’ll appreciate a hideout for alone time. But they also appreciate it if you reach out to them after some time.
Add plastic or wooden branches for climbing. You can buy readymade caves or build them yourself. Pet stores specializing in reptiles sell appropriate substrates* for making playpens.
Pierre suggests the clay-bearing type available on Amazon. It allows you to form burrowing holes, tunnels, shelters, mountains, and caves. Great for climbing, digging, and exploring. This material is safe, cheap, easy to clean, and can be remodeled. There’s also a cavern kit with an excavator.
Playtime isn’t all hustle and bustle. Your dragon also enjoys sedentary activities, like watching TV, hanging out with the family, or just being with you while you’re reading a book, trolling Facebook, or playing a game.
Mei claims dragons are responsive to TV because of the flashing colors and distracting noises, which are way different from the elements in the wild.
While in their natural habitat, dragons hunt for food or fight with other dragons to protect their territory. In a terrarium, they get bored if there’s nothing to do. So providing stimulation is important, not just for their physical health but also for their mental stability.
Vets and bearded dragon experts always drum in the ideal: recreate your dragon’s native home as closely as possible. We get it, but in the process, it wouldn’t hurt to also make a fun setting, right? And the fun part doesn’t have to be solely for your pet, but also for you.
Pierre suggests installing a background in your pet’s tank. Recreate the original desert environment in your dragon’s native Australia to cure its homesickness.
Reproduce the setting of a scene in your favorite video game, TV series, or movie. Choose pleasant scenery, however. You don’t want your beardie running amok around weapons, blood, and gore. Experiment with themes. Change your dragon’s environment every four to six months. Any length of time shorter than that may cause your dragon to get antsy. Let it get used to a set for some time before you change it.
The point of entertaining your bearded dragon isn’t just for pleasure. It’s vital for keeping them fit and for preventing depression. Like humans, dragons don’t appreciate being forced to do anything unpleasant or uncomfortable—even if the activity is good for them—like eating veggies or going to the gym.
So being resourceful in devising strategies for your pet’s enjoyment will go a long way in keeping your dragon (and you) happy and content. Your creativity may also prolong your pet’s life.
* Substrate is the surface or material on or from which an organism lives, grows, or obtains its nourishment. [New Oxford American Dictionary]
- Wikipedia: Pogona
- LizardGuru: How to Comfort Your Bearded Dragon
- Celestial Mei: How To Bond With Your Bearded Dragon
- Reptiliatus: Playing with your bearded dragon
- George Ward: Amazing tips on how to exercise your bearded dragon
- Pet Education: Bearded Dragon Species Profile—Habitat, Diet, and Care
- Big Al’s Pets: Dragon Food
- Complete Critter: Bearded Dragon Food Pyramid
- Bearded Dragon Tank: 8 Reasons For Your Bearded Dragon’s Black Beard
- Bearded Dragon Tank: The 10 Best Bearded Dragon Toys and Activities
- Bearded Dragon Tank: 5-Step Bearded Dragon Starter Guide